Company plans bid for storage of federal uranium waste
By Ruth Campbell
Waste Control Specialists has applied to the Department of State Health Services to amend its license so it can store uranium tailings from a former U.S. Department of Energy uranium processing plant in Fernald, Ohio.
The Department of Energy wants to move the waste by the end of 2006, said Gary Stegner, public affairs officer for the Department of Energy.
Jeff Wagner, public affairs officer for Fluor Fernald, the company charged with cleaning up the Fernald site, said a request for proposals will be mailed out the first part of November and a contract should be awarded by Jan. 20, 2005.
Shipping would start sometime in early 2005 — around February or March, Wagner said.
Waste Control Specialists, which has a site in Andrews County, has a license to store low-level radioactive waste and is applying to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to dispose of low-level radioactive waste.
Waste Control Specialists already stores waste similar to the waste at Fernald at its site, Reggie Bashur, a company consultant said. “The site and storage of the material will be fully protective of human health and the environment,” Bashur said.
Andrews business people and city and county officials wrote to U.S. Secretary of Energy Spence Abraham expressing support for Waste Control Specialists taking the Fernald waste.
“The citizens of Andrews are very familiar with the nature of the business activities conducted at the WCS facility and understand that the facility is ideally situated for the safe and secure storage of radioactive materials due to the isolated location, arid climate, lack of surface and groundwater and superior geology,” the letter says.
“Additionally, all activities conducted at the WCS facility are strictly regulated by the environmental and radiation control agencies of the State of Texas and federal government,” the letter said.
The waste would come from Fernald’s three silos, built in the early 1950s near Cincinnati, Ohio. Originally, the Department of Energy was going to send the silo waste to the Nevada Test Site, Stegner said. But the State of Nevada has threatened to sue DOE if silo waste is sent there, so DOE is considering other options.
The material is being moved because it would pose a public health threat if the silos collapsed and people were directly exposed to the material for long periods of time, according to information from Fluor Fernald, the company charged with cleaning up the Fernald site. The current location is also above a sole-source drinking water aquifer and within 25 miles of millions of people, the information says.
The silos are concrete structures 80 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. The silos contain material left after the processing of naturally occurring uranium to produce uranium metal.
Material left after the processing of uranium ore is regulated by the State of Texas under an authorization from the U.S. Regulatory Commission. The original ore was rich in uranium, and as a result, the material left behind “has relatively higher concentrations of naturally occurring radionulides than found in average ores,” according to information from Fluor Fernald.
Silos 1 and 2 contain about 8,000 cubic yards of silty clay-like material from the processing ore from the Belgian Congo in the early 1950s, Fluor’s information says.
Margot Clarke, outreach coordinator for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club in Austin, said Belgian Congo Pitch Blend is 65 percent uranium.
The material was processed at Fernald and at a facility in St. Louis. The residues were stored because the African Metals Corp., which owned the material, wanted to save them for additional processing that never happened, the information says.
Clarke said the Fernald waste is known as 11e.2. “It’s mine tailings from the most potent uranium in the world … much, much stronger than anything else,” Clarke said.
Silo 3 contains 5,100 cubic yards of powder-like residues from the processing of Canadian and U.S. ores from the 50s. The material has been calcinated —burned — to reduce its volume, the information says.
If granted, the amended license would allow Waste Control Specialists to increase the quantity of waste it can take from 250,000 cubic feet to 1.5 million cubic feet, said Richard Ratliff, radiation program officer for the Division of Regulatory Services in the Department of Health Services in Austin.
The increased quantity would be the equivalent of about 7,000 Department of Energy containers made of stainless steel and standing 6 feet around and 6 1/2 feet tall, Ratliff said.
Sue Walpole, public affairs officer with Fluor Fernald, said the company was given authority to look for other sites to send the waste. She said about 85 percent of the waste would stay at Fernald and be disposed of on-site.
Stegner said two sets of requests for proposals will be taken — one for waste from the Fernald plant and the other for waste Fernald stored.
For transport, material in Silos 1 and 2 will be placed into transfer storage tanks, treated with a concrete grout, placed in one-half-inch steel sealed containers six feet in diameter and six-and-a-half feet high. The containers would be shipped by truck or rail.
Radiation risks from the material are “being eliminated” through treatment and packaging, the information says.
The containers have been drop tested to ensure their integrity in a transportation accident.
Material in Silo 3 will be removed and conditioned with water and chemicals to make it “soil-like” and “eliminate its dispersability.” After that, the material would be placed in Department of Transportation approved containers and shipped by truck or train to the Nevada Test Site.
Clarke said the State of Utah took legislative action to stop the company, Envirocare, from taking the waste.
“Once the DOE gets that stuff out of Ohio, … it’s going to be nearly impossible for us to change our minds,” Clarke said.
Meanwhile, Clarke said the Sierra Club is working to close the “compact loophole,” which allows waste from other states to be stored in Texas.
The Waste Control site, once it’s licensed, would store federal and compact waste from Texas and Vermont. Clarke said the loophole in the compact law allows the yet-to-be appointed six-member Compact Commission to vote to take waste from anyone.
Clarke said Nevada has already proposed sending their interstate compact waste to Texas, as has Nebraska, which was supposed to be the host state for waste from Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas and Louisiana.
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